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Roof Collapse Caught on Tape; Fiscal Cliff-Hanger: 21 Days; Finding Mona Lisa

Aired December 11, 2012 - 06:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Storms tearing through the south. This funnel cloud caught on camera in Florida, with more storms expected today.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: A news crew captures the destruction as a rain-soaked ceiling gives away right in the middle of an interview. We talk live to the team behind the camera.

BERMAN: The search for the real Mona Lisa. Did a real-life Indiana Jones find her, too?

That sounds pretty cool.

SAMBOLIN: It does.

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: So, you could hear it then you could see it. A possible tornado and heavy rain collapsing the roof of a Birmingham, Alabama home -- and it was all caught on tape.


CLINT THORNTON, HOMEOWNER: We have the dog. She was in the cage.


THORNTON: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God! You all OK? You all OK? You all all right?


BERMAN: Homeowner Clint Thornton was being interviewed by CNN affiliate WIAT about his family survived the tornado when the ceiling of his home just suddenly caved in. Thankfully, we should tell you, no one -- no one -- was injured.

Joining me now is the WIAT news team that captured this really extraordinary moment, photojournalist Scott MacDowell and reporter Kaitlin McCulley. So, you know, we see this video. You're in the middle of interviewing Mr. Thornton and then, all of a sudden, you know, the ceiling starts to cave in. What is going through your mind as this is happening, guys?

SCOTT MACDOWELL, PHOTOJOURNALIS, WIAT, CBS42 BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA: John, good morning. Good morning from WIAT down in Birmingham.

But it was really amazing to see. Something like this, it doesn't happen that often. You don't see that type of thing happen in an interview. And there was lot of praying to God immediately after that. But it's the roof's ripped of in that situation. You see the rain comes in, it fills up the dry wall, it fills up the drywall. It turns into concrete almost, turns it back in to this real heavy state.

And we could hear when we were walking on the streets, you could hear the pop and the drop. We weren't sure what it was until we got in the interview. And lo and behold, we're in the middle of the interview when that happens.

KAITLIN MCCULLEY, REPORTER, WIAT CBS42 BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA: Yes, we were standing in the front of the house talking to neighbors and I just looked to my right, and all of a sudden, I just see -- I see the pieces start to cave in. The weight of all of that rain, just the roof gave in.


BERMAN: It was so interesting. We were saying you can actually start hearing it first. We have been saying all morning no one was hurt. There were people at one point inside the house. How did the people all manage to stay safe?

MACDOWELL: You did have. A lot of people in a lot of their houses, I'm very surprised. And it's something. Our news director Bill Feyer (ph) really drives home the fact that we have our weather radios on and up and that goes true for a lot of people in this area. They have the weather radios on.

But this was a big surprise. It started off as thunderstorms and surprised all of us across the board that this turned into an EF-1 tornado and people woke up and found their roofs were collapsing in on top of them.

MCCULLEY: And it really was amazing, think about the tornadoes that came through in April 2011 -- I mean, these are people who are used to being prepared or used to keeping their weather radios on and things like that, and it just took everyone by surprise.

BERMAN: You know, you kept interviewing Mr. Thornton after the roof did collapse, and I want to listen to what he said right now. It's really interesting.


MACDOWELL: Your roof just collapsed. THORNTON: It just collapsed. And it's still coming down. It's horrible. But these things can be replaced.

MACDOWELL: I was going to ask you, what does this do to your Christmas?

THORNTON: It gives us a praise like never before.


BERMAN: What a fantastic response. You guys must cover a lot of severe weather. Were you surprised by what he said?

MACDOWELL: I was blown away. And the minute we talked about it after the fact, we took off down the street and walked and talked to other people, including him. But to see that response, it was the response of the community. The entire community is -- and thankfully no one was hurt, that's the important thing.

But rally around, not the material things.

MCCULLEY: It really was amazing to see. As these buildings are literally crumbling around people, I mean, they were so grateful to have each other, to be alive, have their families.

BERMAN: Kaitlin, give me a sense of what's going in that neighborhood right now, what kind of condition is the neighborhood in this morning as we're all waking up?

MCCULLEY: Well, right now, we are planning on heading out there right after we get finished with this interview. But -- I mean, power is slowly coming back on. It's just going to be the rebuilding process that -- again, these people are really used to. And it's going to be slow, but there are pulling it together.

MACDOWELL: And it's a terrible thing to get used to. Those April 27th storms sent the message and it has everybody on high alert when this rolled through. And it's a terrible thing to be used to, especially right around the holidays --

BERMAN: All right. Kaitlin McCulley and Scott MacDowell, we'll let you go out and do your job. You obviously do your job very, very well. Rolling on that as it was happening yesterday. it was amazing, amazing video.

Thank you so much for being with us.

MACDOWELL: Thanks, John.

MCCULLEY: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-five minutes past the hour.

We know this morning that at least two tornadoes touched down across the South, the entire region, from Texas, all the way to Florida, was struck by really rough weather yesterday. Soaking rains, lots of powerful winds.

So, let's see what's in the region today. Alexandra Steele in the weather center. What can folks expect?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: All right. Well, where they are, the skies have cleared out. Things are cooler, it's quite breezy. The only real threat today is south and central Florida.

But here's a look at that severe line that moved through. At least a dozen reported tornadoes. Also, near Birmingham, record rain in some areas, two inches for some.

So, again, a lot of tornado activity. And, you know, tornadoes that were not that uncommon in Birmingham on average, we see two tornadoes in the month of December. Jackson, seven tornadoes. So we see them. December is a cool weather month for tornadoes. It's what we call Dixie Alley, kind of a second season.

All right. Also here in the Northeast, clouds and showers moving through. Boston, 61 degrees yesterday. Not bad today. Rain and clouds this morning. Cooling off. Temperatures much cooler behind it by about 30 degrees.

Here's the threat though. This is the tail end of the front that brought the strong storms through. Right now, in south and central Florida, you can see the lightning and also, there is the threat today for some isolated tornadoes, hail, and even damaging winds.

So a big picture, there is the front, clear and cool in the Midwest, the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic, still rain this morning in Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, but it will all move out.

Again, the only real severe threat is in Florida, but then, in the Pacific Northwest, guys, the next storm system coming through, how about a foot of snow in the Cascades, rain maybe an inch or two in western Washington or Oregon. Then that will cruise the country and bring us some more snow.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Alexandra Steele, live in Atlanta, thank you.


SAMBOLIN: Thirty-seven minutes past the hour. The Dallas Cowboys will hold a private memorial for Jerry Brown today and the team is inviting Josh Brent to that service. Brent is charged with intoxication manslaughter in his teammate's death. The Cowboys head coach said the team wants to embrace Brent.

Brown's mother spoke to CNN's Piers Morgan.


STACEY JACKSON, MOTHER OF JERRY BROWN JR.: Because I know Josh Brent and he's been part of our family since Jerry went to the University of Illinois, that's all I can do is pray for him and his family because I know he's hurting just as well as we are, because him and Jerry was like brothers.


SAMBOLIN: Wow. Brent is out on $500,000 bond.

BERMAN: More news this morning.

With the stroke of a pen, you might say, they started puffing. Pot officially legal in Colorado. The governor there signing Amendment 64 into the state's constitution after voters approved it on Election Day. People 21 years and older may have up to one ounce of marijuana. They smoke it but not in public. They are allowed to grow a small amount at home.

SAMBOLIN: Also turning on the Web this morning, Lord Stanley is weeping. The NHL has now canceled all games through December 30th. No one surprised here, with no deal to end the lockout and no new talks in the works either. A total of 526 games have been wiped up so far.

BERMAN: Fans disappearing, if there are any left.

SAMBOLIN: I wasn't surprised when I saw the news, right? You weren't either.

BERMAN: No, it's just bad. A league managing itself poorly.

SAMBOLIN: That is correct.

To check out other top CNN trends, head to

BERMAN: And a terrific week for Tom Brady. I can't get the smile off my face. Tom Brady welcomes a new baby and he shows the Texans who is boss on Monday night. Here's a hint: Tom Brady.

We'll have more, coming up.


BERMAN: All right, everyone. Soledad O'Brien is here with a look at what's ahead on "STARTING POINT," in addition to Tom Brady, of course.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, of course, always. The fiscal cliff is what we're going to be talking about, happening those discussions behind closed doors. Is it a sign of progress or is it a sign that actually the talks should be more transparent? We'll talk about that.

And, of course, talk about the affects of going off the cliff could have on small businesses with the Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Javier Palomarez is going to join us, too. He's the president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Michigan close to becoming the newest right-to-work state, despite some major protests that are expected today. Could the legislation throw the state into turmoil? We'll take a look and have reaction this morning from Michigan Congressman Sandy Levin.

You heard all about the fun and dysfunction, especially during the holidays. Actor and director Ed Burns will join us to talk about his new movie, "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas." Yes, he's got a new movie. It looks really good.

That and much more coming up right at the top of the hour, at 7:00, "STARTING POINT."

SAMBOLIN: All right. Looking forward to it. Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

SAMBOLIN: It's 43 minutes past the hour now. It seems both sides got the memo because everyone is being quiet as a mouse on Capitol Hill. And when it comes to the looming fiscal cliff crisis, that's a good sign.

In just 21 days, we go off the cliff, and that means drastic tax hikes and spending cuts. And Congress is scheduled to break for the holidays on Friday. The two sides are talking behind the scenes and for a change, all of the posturing and finger-pointing has actually died down, at least for now, we're going to say.

Here's CNN political reporter Shannon Travis joins us live from Washington. So, Shannon, what are you hearing, if anything?

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, we're hearing that as you just mentioned, that they are talking, but that's all we're hearing, but I guess that's a good sign, that they are talking at this point.

I'm going to read a statement from John Boehner's press secretary. Quote, "Discussions with the White House are taking place, but we have no detail to share about the substance of those conversations. The Republican offer made last week remains the Republican offer, and we continue to wait for the president to identify the spending cuts he's willing to make as part of the balanced approach he promised the American people."

Again, that's from House Speaker John Boehner's office. The president on the other hand took to Michigan yesterday, and laid down once again his goal for any kind of deal.

Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you put it all together, what you need is a package that keeps taxes where they are for middle class families, we make some tough spending cuts on things that we don't need, and then we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a slightly higher tax rate.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TRAVIS: And as you know, Zoraida, therein lies the impasse. The president wants the tax rates on the wealthiest Americans to rise. Republicans say that it'll keep jobs. They want deep cuts in entitlement spending -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: And meantime, Shannon, everyday, the clock is ticking and we keep on wondering, do we have enough time to actually have some resolution here?

TRAVIS: That's a real question and a real concern for a lot of people if there is a deal to be had, it really needs to be had by Friday, because the legislative process has to work its way out and that could take potentially two weeks. So, that could put us close to the cliff, if not over the cliff -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: It's not actually as simple as Obama and Boehner saying we agree.

TRAVIS: Right.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you. Shannon, we appreciate it. Thank you.

BERMAN: That would sure be welcome --


BERMAN: -- before Christmas.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. It would be nice. Forty-five minutes past the hour.

BERMAN: We need to up to date on all the morning's top stories.


BERMAN (voice-over): Florida will see some rough weather again today, mostly -- most of the south from Texas to sunshine state, hit with soaking rains and heavy winds yesterday. It's confirmed that at least two tornadoes touched down in Alabama, one in Louisiana, one tearing a four-mile long path.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The air force's top secret X-37B robotic space plane is clear to lift off in just a few hours. It's scheduled at 1:03 p.m. eastern time from Cape Canaveral. It is the vehicle's third mission. It's an unmanned re-usable mini-version of the space shuttle and likely retired shuttles. It lifts off vertically and it lands autopilot on a runway. Big question? What is it carrying, Berman?

BERMAN: Yes. It's a big, big mystery.


BERMAN (voice-over): The Internet speculating like crazy right now.

Forty-six minutes after the hour right now. And powerful world leaders no match for a stomach bug. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, apparently, she has a bad one. She's going to have to bail out of a friends of Syria meeting tomorrow in Morocco so she can get better. Deputy Secretary William Burns will go in her place. One topics they respected to discuss is how to deal with radical Islamists who are among Syria's rebels.

SAMBOLIN: And on Monday night's football. The best team in the AFC goes in to Tom Brady's house, and guess what, got steam rolled. Brady talks (ph) four touchdown passes in a 42-4 route of the Houston Texans, the team with the best record in the league. The Patriots have now won 20 straight home games in the month of December. Berman is just staring googly-eyed.

BERMAN: I can watch this forever.

SAMBOLIN: It was Brady's first game since he and Gisele welcomed their second child together. So, he was doing it --

BERMAN: A daughter, Vivian Lake. Congratulations --



BERMAN: Congratulations to the Brady family. Come on and talk to us any time. We'd love to see you, really. I mean it, a lot.


BERMAN: All right. Forty-seven minutes after the hour right now. And she is the lady behind one of history's most famous smiles. Coming up, the search for the real life Mona Lisa.


BERMAN: Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist is talking about why he went blue. He told CNN's Piers Morgan why he left the Republican Party and became a card-carrying Democrat.


FMR. GOV. CHARLIE CRIST, (D) FLORIDA: The reason is, as I said at the convention, I didn't leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left me, and what I mean by that is that, you know, issue after issue, they seem to get more strident and more difficult, if you will, less tolerant, less welcoming, whether it was immigration or education or voter suppression that we saw recently. Each and every one of these issues really was counter to my values that my mother and father raised me on.


SAMBOLIN: Crist's switch wasn't a great surprise. He endorsed President Obama in the election and spoke at the Democratic National Convention as well.

BERMAN: She posed for the most famous portrait ever, ever, in history. Now, a crew is digging to the real-life Mona Lisa's remains. SAMBOLIN: That's right. And our Ben Wedeman is on the trail with them.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The smile has perplexed art historians for centuries, Leonardo da Vinci's priceless masterpiece, the Mona Lisa or La Gioconda. In the frigid bowels of what was once a convent in Florence, television producer turned art researcher Silvano Vinceti is leading a project to find and identify the remains of the woman who posed for Da Vinci more than 500 years ago.

(on-camera): Historical documents seem to indicate that this is the place where Lisa Gherardini, otherwise known as Mona Lisa, was buried. Beyond that, it's all a mystery.

(voice-over): The remains of five females have been found here. The skull may be that of Lisa Gherardini, the second wife of a wealthy Florence silk merchant. The remains will be compared with the DNA of two relatives buried elsewhere.

No other likeness of her has ever been found, and given that Da Vinci spent years working on the painting, it's possible the real Lisa Gherardini bears no resemblance to the Mona Lisa.

SILVANO VINCETI, ART RESEARCHER (through translator): "Once we identify the remains," Vincete tells me, "we can reconstruct the face with a margin of error of two to eight percent. By doing this, we'll finally be able to answer the question the art historians can't. Who was the model for Leonardo?

WEDEMAN: The smile, on the other hand, will probably remain a mystery. Vincenti claimed scientific analysis suggests the smile came later.

VINCETI: When he says Leonardo began painting the model in front of him, he didn't draw that metaphysical, ironic, poignant, elusive smile, but rather he painted a person who was dark and depressed.

WEDEMAN: The smile, Vinceti and others have suggested, may belong to Da Vinci's long time assistant, and some believe lover, Gian Giacomo Caprotti, while other art historians claim the painting was actually a surreptitious self-portrait. So we may never know if the smile was, as Nat King Cole sang, "to tempt the lover" or simply to confound humanity.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Florence, Italy.


BERMAN: Confound humanity.

SAMBOLIN: Fifty-four minutes past the hour. Today's "Best Advice" from one of "American Idol's" most memorable performers. That's coming up. BERMAN: And ahead on "STARTING POINT," actor and director Ed Burns joins Soledad to talk about his new movie, "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas." And this just in. Zoraida says it's hysterical.




BERMAN: Fifty-eight minutes after the hour now, and as always, we wrap it up with "Best Advice."

SAMBOLIN: Here's Christine.

ROMANS: And don't take it for me, take the "Best Advice" today from singer/songwriter/"American Idol" contestant, Adam Lambert. Listen.


ADAM LAMBERT, SINGER: The best advice I've ever gotten was basically to keep your eye on the prize, not to let anything in the (INAUDIBLE) distract you. If you have a goal, you got to take a risk and you got to go after it. And don't let anything slow you down. Don't let anything compromise that journey, which is head straight towards the goal.


ROMANS: Always bring your eye liner.

BERMAN: Yes. Clearly.


ROMANS: He has a lot of advice in that clip.

BERMAN: And a lot of eyeliner.

ROMANS: But he wears it well. He wears it well.

BERMAN: All right. That is all for EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.